National | Education

Catholic Church wants law change to increase student numbers

New Zealand's body of Catholic Bishops is calling for changes to integration laws that restrict non-Catholic student numbers at Catholic Schools.

Deacon Danny Karatea-Goddard says change is overdue and essential for the survival of the faith and Māori Catholic Schools like Hato Petera.

A Māori vicar, Karatea-Goddard, says including whakapapa in the law could counter declining Catholic student enrolments.

“Only 15 percent of non-Catholic students can enrol at Catholic schools- that is government law. We want [it changed] so everyone can be included.”

Karatea-Goddard wants a whakapapa [genealogy] model which would allow for non-Catholic students, Māori or otherwise, with connections to Catholicism through family members to be eligible for enrollment.

He says the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act goes against key church values of being inclusive because it excludes people from participating in the faith.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the issue is yet to be raised with him.

“If there are barriers in the way enrollment schemes work at the moment, the way enrollment priorities for integrated schools work at the moment and they have some proposals they'd like the government to consider then clearly we'll look at that."

There are 238 Catholic Schools throughout New Zealand with around 66,000 students. St Paul’s (Hato Paora) has 127 students, St Joseph’s (Hato Hohepa) has 221 and St Peters (Hato Petera) has five enrollments; although it has received around 500 expressions of interest from potential students.

Karatea-Goddard says, "Most students enrolling in Secondary Catholic Schools aren't Catholic but they have Catholic connections. If we look at Hato Hōhepa, Hato Pāora and Hato Pētera the connections they have are family ties."

Hipkins says Māori Catholic Schools have a place if Māori Communities want them. Deacon Karatea-Goddard says feedback from Māori communities confirms they do.